Jack Be Nimble - The Demise of the Computer Lab

Image Source: http://goo.gl/eJ6yr

"The demise of the computer lab," shared a colleague in a far-flung school district in the Texas panhandle, "Could you write a blog entry about that?" I found myself at a loss, until I remembered that I'd already written a bit about that, as well struggled with how to provision a lab with computers based on student enrollment. In Banishing the Winter of Digital Discontent, I explore how iPads serve as computer replacements, making desktop computers unessential. In Creative Human - Redundant?, I explore the difference between Chromebooks and iPads, and how the iPad is destined to win.

I still struggle with finding the right balance of computers in labs, mobile computing, carts, etc. for a school. In this blog entry, I'd like to share some of the options I see schools needing to embrace.

An Edutopia article recently found its way into my Evernote Curated Content Notebook on TechMgmt.  The title of that article is, The Pros and Cons of Computer Labs. Who couldn't read that title and wonder, If you have to make a list of pros and cons, maybe, their demise isn't so far away in the future?

I couldn't disagree with the introductory points Mary Beth Hertz makes:
Technology lends itself to project-based learning, and this can be hard to manage or coordinate in a classroom that is not conducive to moving furniture or creating space for groups or teams to work. Often, the computer takes up most of the desk or table space, too, so there is less room for teams to work out ideas before creating them on the computer. A lot of this work must be done in the classroom before they get to the lab, which means that, even when groups are ready to start creating on the computer, they must wait until the day they use the computer lab. This interrupts the creative and design process and inserts an artificial break between the work students are doing and the technology they are using.
In fact, this was my experience when I was an Accelerated Instruction and Migrant Services (AIMS) teacher and campus technology coordinator one year.

How can we approach teaching and learning with technology differently? The answers to that question are as varied as there are educational technologists around the world, but generally, they fall into several different categories.

  1. Drill-n-practice, tutorial - This is a computer lab's bread-n-butter, a way of doing what we know doesn't work: Make computers take the place of teachers to drill students. It is usually a top-down solution implemented by Superintendents and Curriculum Departments afraid to invest in their teachers and hold them accountable. Rather, better to use technology that can never be held accountable, not realizing that two or three visits per week by a student for 30 minutes of "instruction" will never yield the desired results--Exemplary scores on your high stakes assessment, GED Online, credit recovery.
  2. Enhancing Effectiveness of What We Do - Simply, technology is used to accelerate progress, to do things more efficiently, and increase effectiveness. Unfortunately, no one knows how to use technology well enough to achieve the results desired and most end up just doing the bare minimum.
  3. Project/Problem-based Learning - These two approaches, often confused but more effective, have years of solid research behind them. They simply work but are rarely adopted. You can speculate as to the reasons but I'd suggest that they involve relinquishing control to learners, requiring educators to join those learners in the nitty gritty work of growing. 

In my youth, I imagined this to be a continuum that ranged from disaster and evil to excellence and equity. As a Technology Director, I can take a broader perspective. It's not either/or anymore. How do you find a place for these 3 perspectives and approaches to instruction when technology resources are limited? You simply don't have enough money to do any two of them the right way, which is a common mistake. If you're wondering where my bias lies, it is toward project/problem-based learning. Having seen and facilitated PBL firsthand, I can't help but wonder why we persist in the first two areas, mumbling data analysis mumbo-jumbo.

"Jack be nimble, Jack be quick," goes the old Mother Goose nursery rhyme. "Jack jump over the candlestick." In the end, it's jumping over the candlestick. Being nimble, being quick may play an important part, but it's the last that determines success.

How can schools jump over the candlestick, or rather, surmount the obstacle of having to be ready to handle state-mandated assessments, etc. best suited for a computer lab setting, while preparing students for a host of information-rich, creative and collaborative learning opportunities that span the globe?

Various technologies suggest themselves. The following tries to outline what classroom equipment and eLearning environments will allow school districts:

Equipment and eLearning Environments for Regular/Bilingual/ESL/Special Education Classrooms
Issued to Teacher
  • Teacher laptop computer (Mac or Windows), or Chromebook.
  • Tablet (e.g. iPad or Android)
  • GoogleApps for Education
  • Edmodo account
Assigned to Classroom
  • Digital projector (mounted on ceiling or cart with cables, secured).
  • Document camera
  • Access to network laser printer
  • Wired and robust wireless connectivity.
1 to 1 Deployment Options

Option A - GoogleApps for Education
  • Chromebooks ($6360 = 30 units @ $218 each)

  • Android tablets ($1280 = 5 units @ $256 each)

Option B: iPad with SyncStation - $22,000
  • 30 iPads
  • 1 Macbook Pro laptop (SyncStation)
Project-based Learning (PBL)

Option A - Standard Windows Laptop
  • 5 laptops ($4232.65 = 5 units @ $846.53 each*) - allows for 5 groups

Option B - Chromebooks
  • 5 Chromebooks ($1090 = 5 units @ $218 each*)

*Price subject to change per vendor
eLearning Environments:
  • GoogleApps for Education Accounts in Grades 8-12, as well as special situations.
  • Edmodo account

Recommendations above are based on STaR Chart. All dollar amounts subject to change.

Equipment and eLearning Environments for Teacher-Librarians

Issued to Teacher
  • Teacher laptop computer (Mac or Windows), or Chromebook.
  • Tablet (e.g. iPad or Android)
  • GoogleApps for Education
  • Edmodo account
Assigned to Library

  • Digital projector (mounted on ceiling or cart with cables, secured).
  • Document camera
  • Access to network laser printer
  • Wired and robust wireless connectivity
  • Circulation Station
  • Barcode scanner
  • Network Laser Printer
For Student Use
  • 20 eReaders for student checkout
  • 10 computer workstations with Internet access*
  • 1 computer (Reference desk)
eLearning Environments:
  • GoogleApps for Education Accounts in Grades 8-12, as well as special situations.
  • Edmodo account
  • Overdrive for Grade 6-12 campuses

*Texas School Library Standards (http://www.tsl.state.tx.us/ld/schoollibs/standards2004.html)

Those standards specify the following:

Library technology infrastructure (including computers) meets the Standards as desig­nated by district and campus STaRCharts at the Target Tech Level, which includes "4 or less students per Internet-connected multi­media computer” [number of students determined by Library capacity], and on-demand access for every student.

Campus Computer Lab Infrastructure

Campus Computer Lab Ratio involves 11 students to 1 computer. This means that for every 1000 students, you have 3 computer labs with 30 computers in it. The purpose of computer labs is to facilitate state assessments and use of state-issued resources.

Projected Numbers
Here’s what a 11 students to 1 desktop computer lab situation would look like in ECISD schools (Note: Actual Numbers for reporting campuses appears on the next page):
Computer Labs
Computers in Labs
Alternative Center
Early Childhood Center
Middle School
High School

*Not typical or based on the student to computer ratio.

With these two tables, I hope to have answered my own question about how many computer labs to put in classrooms, and what kind of options to make available to teachers. There's no doubt that some day, computer labs won't be needed. That day may be a lot sooner than later, given that Pearson is working on an app for Apple's iPad, and there's a Java-based version of TestNav available.

Until the day though that these high stakes assessments run on any type of device--Linux OS, Mac, Windows, iPad, Android--computer labs will remain as the mainstay of any school district's assessment and "curriculum delivery" plan.

Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin's blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure


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